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Intel launches E5 Xeons, a faster mainstay of the server market

The new processors are faster at number crunching and input-output, more power-efficient, and actually have been creeping to market for months.

Lisa Graff, general manager of Intel's data center platform engineering group, holds a 300mm wafer of Intel's E5 Xeon processors.
Lisa Graff, general manager of Intel's data center platform engineering group, holds a 300mm wafer of Intel's E5 Xeon processors at the CeBIT trade show.
Stephen Shankland/CNET

HANOVER, Germany--Intel launched its E5 family of Xeon processors today, a tremendously important product line for the chipmaker that brings new performance to Intel-based servers and workstations.

The E5 line now comes in two varieties, Intel announced at a launch event here at the CeBIT tech show. First is the E5-2600 series for the mainstay of the server market, systems with two processor sockets. Second is the E5-1600 series chiefly for single-socket workstations.

The Xeon chips are a very important part of Intel's business. For one thing, servers are a growing market because of cloud computing, Internet businesses, and other work that requires these utilitarian networked machines. For another, it's important in Intel's push to expand to storage and networking equipment. Last, it's competitive--unlike the string of Intel chips Intel that failed until only recently to rival ARM chips used in smartphones and tablets.

The new chips come in a range of configurations, with variations in built-in cache memory (10MB to 20MB), processing cores (2 to 8), power consumption (60 watts to 135 watts), and of course clock speed (1.8GHz to 3.6GHz). They all come with a new basic design, though, and are all built with a 32-nanometer manufacturing process.

Intel's "Ivy Bridge" processors for PCs, due later this year, are built with a 22-nanometer process that permits smaller processors that consume less power. Intel typically moves its server processor to new manufacturing processors more slowly, though.

Prices for the new E5 Xeons range from $198 to $2,050 apiece in batches of 1,000, Intel said.

Early models of the chips have seen real-world use already. More than 100,000 have shipped, said Lisa Graff, general manager of data center platform engineering, in a press conference here.

One big factor these days is power management, which is important to keep servers and data centers from overheating and to keep electricity bills under control. Another trend that's in opposition is increasing integration on processors--the addition of functions that used to require separate chips.

The E5 line, for example, has a built-in controller for PCI Express, the interface for attaching network cards and other input-output devices central to the job of a server.

"The more you integrate into the CPU, you're going to increase that [power consumption]. It's like you leave all the lights on in your house," even when rooms are unused, Graff said. The E5 series includes technology to throttle back unused parts of the chip. "This is like dimming the lights as people leave the rooms," she said.

The E5's energy efficiency is up to 50 percent better than the prior Xeon models, Graff said. Performance--driven by the input-output improvements and new mathematical processing abilities called Advanced Vector Extensions, or AVX--increases dramatically, too. Intel also touted new security features such as Advanced Encryption Standard New Instruction (AES-NI) that bakes some encryption and decryption tasks into hardware.

In conjunction with the processor, Intel also announced the Ethernet Controller X540, a separate chip for 10Gbps networking. Intel projects that the chip will help make the faster networking an ordinary rather than premium feature.